News and Case Updates

Walker v. MultiCare Lien Release Letters

Today, we received notice that Gilardi & Co., the claims administrator in this case, began mailing out lien releases officially signed by MultiCare.  If you filed a claim form in this case, you should receive a lien release within the coming weeks.  Please retain these lien releases when you receive them; they are your official proof that that medical services liens filed against you have been satisfied and released.  We would also recommend that you take your lien release and record them with the Pierce County Auditor’s Office.

For instructions on how to record a document with the Auditor’s Office, please visit the Auditor’s website here or call the Auditor’s Office at 1-253-798-7440.

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Judge OKs $7.5 million settlement between MultiCare and accident victims

by Adam Lynn (The News Tribune)

A Pierce County judge Friday gave preliminary approval to a $7.5 million class-action settlement that would allow the MultiCare Health System to end a dispute with six accident victims.

The six plaintiffs contend the regional health care giant misused the state’s medical lien law to squeeze more money out of them than it could have gotten from billing their insurance plans.

Superior Court Judge Jerry Costello’s decision paves the way for plaintiffs’ attorneys and those representing MultiCare to begin notifying the more than 4,000 people who might benefit from the settlement.

Letters will begin going out, and advertisements will begin appearing next month, spelling out how to submit a claim under the settlement.

Those people would have a chance to weigh in on the terms of the deal, probably in January, before final court approval would make funds available.

The six patients sued MultiCare in 2013, contending it and one of its contractors improperly filed medical liens against monetary settlements they reached with third parties responsible for their injuries.

State law allows health care providers to file such liens to recoup the costs of care they provide.

But the plaintiffs, who suffered their injuries as a result of someone else’s negligence, said MultiCare ignored their insurance plans and sought money from their court settlements because it was more lucrative.

MultiCare denied wrongdoing and blamed one of its former employees and its contractor for the trouble.

The litigation dragged on for 18 months and exposed some of MultiCare’s hardball billing practices, which brought negative attention to one of Pierce County’s largest employers and health care providers.

Read more here: http://www.thenewstribune.com/2014/11/21/3500976_judge-oks-75-million-settlement.html?rh=1

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MultiCare to pay $7.5 million to settle liens suit

by Adam Lynn (The News Tribune)

MultiCare Health System has agreed to pay $7.5 million to settle a lawsuit brought against it and one of its former contractors by patients who claim the regional health care giant misused the state’s medical lien law to squeeze more money out of them than it could get by billing their insurance.

MultiCare attorneys and those of the plaintiffs signed the agreement Monday, court records show.

A hearing is scheduled Friday in Pierce County Superior Court for Judge Jerry Costello to consider the agreement. If he gives preliminary approval, lawyers will begin trying to notify about 4,000 people who could benefit from the settlement.

They would have a chance to weigh in on the proposal, probably in January, before final court approval makes funds available.

MultiCare, which has fought the lawsuit vigorously for more than 18 months, admitted no wrongdoing in reaching the settlement.

The parties agreed to settle “in order to put to rest all controversy and to avoid further burdensome, protracted and costly litigation,” court records show.

“As a community health care system, we take very seriously our responsibility to operate in an ethical and transparent manner,” MultiCare spokeswoman Marce Edwards said Tuesday. “Settlement is the right thing to do for our patients.

“The settlement is a compromise of plaintiffs’ disputed claims, including claims of wrongdoing by Hunter Donaldson,” the health system’s collection agency. “Although we had a number of legal defenses, our goal was to conclude the plaintiffs’ lawsuit.”

The plaintiffs’ attorney, Darrell Cochran, said the agreement was “a long time coming.”

“The business of medicine should not be allowed to harm the public’s trust in the practice of medicine,” he said. “And that’s definitely what was happening here.

“Now, we can argue about whether it was two or three bad eggs or a more widespread corporate culture, but a definite pattern emerged where hospital revenue became a higher priority for some executives than patient care.

“And that’s not right. Patients deserve better; the doctors and nurses deserve better.”

The plaintiffs’ attorneys will seek one-third of the settlement amount to cover their fees and costs, court records show.

Five people who sued MultiCare in two actions wrote affidavits in which they said they believe the agreement is fair. Those lawsuits were merged into one, and that suit is expected to be certified as a class action as part of the settlement agreement.

The litigation began in April 2013 when Velma Walker, Melanie Smallwood, James Stutz, Karl Walthall and Gina Cichon sued MultiCare. Christian Meismer also sued later that year. Cichon’s claim eventually was dismissed.

They sought treatment at MultiCare facilities after being hurt as the result of actions by third parties.

The plaintiffs contended Hunter Donaldson, with the knowledge of MultiCare executives, improperly filed medical liens against settlements they reached with those responsible for their injuries rather than billing the plaintiffs’ insurance carriers.

The practice allowed MultiCare to get more money for the reimbursement of medical services it provided, which often left little money to compensate accident victims for pain and suffering and other losses, the lawsuits contended.

Auto and medical insurance often pays only a percentage of the costs of hospital treatment.

MultiCare countered that it had the right, and arguably the duty, to recoup as much money as possible for the services it provided and pointed out that the law allowed it to seek no more than 25 percent of a settlement to recover the costs of its services.

The combined lawsuit included allegations that former MultiCare executive Jason Adams helped a Hunter Donaldson employee get a Washington state notary public license even though she lived and worked in California.

The employee notarized thousands of liens filed in Pierce and King counties, liens the plaintiffs said were illegal because the license was a sham. The state later rescinded the woman’s license.

Adams later left MultiCare, and Hunter Donaldson, which MultiCare since has fired, filed for bankruptcy last year.

MultiCare on Tuesday laid much of the blame for the controversy on Hunter Donaldson.

“Last spring, we identified circumstances where it appeared liens had been improperly filed, but we also learned of some other circumstances where Hunter Donaldson had failed to follow the terms of our contract and the law as it relates to some patients who may have had commercial health insurance coverage,” Edwards said.

MultiCare continues to use the liens to recoup money where appropriate, she said.

“We have terminated our relationship with Hunter Donaldson and hired a new company that handles medical liens in a manner consistent with the law and MultiCare’s values,” Edwards said. “We also have tightened our internal controls, which include requiring a MultiCare-employed notary to personally notarize every medical lien.

A lawyer for Hunter Donaldson did not return a call for comment Tuesday.

Read more here: http://www.thenewstribune.com/2014/11/18/3495554/multicare-to-pay-75-million-to.html

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TheNewsTribune: Suit accuses MultiCare of violating policy over use of medical liens

Suit accuses MultiCare of violating policy over use of medical liens

BY ADAM LYNN

March 17, 2014

A lawyer for five people suing MultiCare Health System and one of its contractors over their use of medical liens contends the Tacoma-based health care giant sought liens against people with private insurance even as it said publicly, including in a statement to The News Tribune, that it was its policy not to do so.

Attorney Darrell Cochran said the seemingly contradictory statements show why a judge should force MultiCare to turn over records to the plaintiffs regarding contracts and agreements with private insurers and government payers regarding MultiCare’s use of medical liens.

“Plaintiffs are entitled to receive this requested discovery and to determine in which instance MultiCare was actually telling the truth,” Cochran wrote in pleadings filed earlier this month.

Health care providers sometimes place liens against money an accident victim might get from a lawsuit or a court settlement. They do this to recoup costs in cases where accident victims, usually those without insurance, rack up bills they cannot afford to pay.

MultiCare and its collection agency, Hunter Donaldson, last week denied Cochran’s accusations.

In his accusation against the companies, Cochran was referring to statements MultiCare made to The News Tribune and KOMO-TV last year when both news outlets were reporting on the lawsuits.

In June 2013, MultiCare sent to The News Tribune an email that included the following statement: “Liens are not filed in circumstances where the patient has traditional health care coverage through a commercial carrier, such as Regence or Premera.”

Cochran said in court pleadings filed this month that documents recently turned over to him by MultiCare show otherwise.

“Monthly statements show that patients with Aetna, Regence, Primera, United and other ‘commercial contracted’ private insurers were routinely caught in the Hunter Donaldson and MultiCare lien scheme,” he said.

A MultiCare spokeswoman told The News Tribune last week it is company policy not to seek medical liens against patients with private health insurance. Marce Edwards said MultiCare was assured by Hunter Donaldson that no such liens were filed.

“We are conducting a detailed audit of the lien practices to find out if there are situations in which an improper lien was filed against patients with private insurance and where we incorrectly received payment from a patient’s settlement,” Edwards said in an email. “If we received payments in these cases, we will promptly correct the mistake and make a refund.”

Thomas Boeder, lawyer for Hunter Donaldson, said his client’s policy is to not pursue liens against patients with private insurance and that Cochran’s contention is “simply wrong.”

Occasionally, Hunter Donaldson files liens against patients not knowing they have insurance but will rescind the liens when notified otherwise, Boeder said. And in a few cases — 20 out of nearly 57,000 over the last two years — patients with insurance have asked Multicare to pursue the lien instead of billing their insurance, he said.

“On those occasions, MultiCare acceded to the patient’s request, and if necessary, reassigned the account to Hunter Donaldson to continue to pursue a lien recovery,” Boeder said.

MultiCare also has filed a formal objection to releasing the specific records sought by the plaintiffs, saying Cochran received most of the disputed documents in response to another lawsuit he brought over the same topic.

At dispute in both lawsuits is a section of Washington law that allows some medical providers, including doctors and hospitals, to place a lien against money an accident victim might get from successfully suing or settling with the person responsible for his or her injuries.

The plaintiffs say MultiCare and Hunter Donaldson conspired to use the law to unfairly enrich themselves. MultiCare stands to gain more money by using liens to recoup its costs from money its patients obtain through a lawsuit or settlement than it does from billing insurance companies, Cochran said.

Such practices often leave accident victims with no money once they pay their medical bills, even if they gained cash for pain and suffering and other costs, he said.

Cochran has argued in court pleadings that as many as 5,000 medical liens notarized by Hunter Donaldson employee Rebecca Rohlke are invalid because she was not authorized to work in Washington but applied for a state notary public license with an address other than her own. He has sought class-action status for the case, but a judge has not granted it.

MultiCare has admitted in court documents that Rohlke used the home address of a former MultiCare vice president on her application for a notary license. But it argues that even if the liens were improperly filed, the patients still owe money for services rendered and it has a duty to try to recover its costs.

“MultiCare’s hospitals open their doors to everyone and provide medical services regardless of a person’s ability to pay,” the nonprofit health system said last year in a statement to The News Tribune. “When there is an ability to pay, such as a third-party settlement, we have the obligation to collect a portion of that settlement so that we may continue to sustain care services for our community.”

The lawsuits have caused turmoil at the highest levels of MultiCare, according to documents recently filed by Cochran.

In a November deposition, Vincent H. Schmitz, the system’s former chief financial officer, described the issue as “a mess.”

Schmitz told Cochran he didn’t understand why former MultiCare vice president Jason Adams allowed Rohlke to use his home address on her license application or even use her at all, given MultiCare has notary publics on staff.

“I think I asked him, ‘Well, why didn’t you just use someone in the office?’ Because we had notaries in the office,” Schmitz said. “I didn’t understand it. I thought it was the silliest move I ever heard of.”

Schmitz said many of the system’s highest executives, including soon-to-retire president Diane Cecchettini, knew about the controversy.

“She was as confused as I was about why that would have happened,” Schmitz said.

There were rumors in MultiCare that Adams might have received money from Hunter Donaldson for its securing the contract, the former CFO said.

“There were some rumors about that,” he said. “I think it was speculation of why was there a relationship with Hunter Donaldson.”

Adams since has left MultiCare and moved to Maine. Attempts by The News Tribune to reach him have been unsuccessful.

Schmitz said the lawsuits and the ensuing publicity made Adams decide to leave.

“Yeah, it was a bad situation with the — there was an article in the local paper that accused MultiCare of fraud and was on the front page,” he said. “Then there was a TV reporter that came into the office. Then they went to Jason’s house, and his wife was very upset, being subjected to that, and so that was kind of humiliating, I think.”

Adam Lynn: 253-597-8644
adam.lynn@thenewstribune.com
@TNTadam
Read more here: http://www.thenewstribune.com/2014/03/17/3101091/suit-accuses-multicare-of-violating.html

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MultiCare Admits Fraud Committed By Its Employees

Anyone following this case knows the central allegations revolve around MultiCare Vice President of Revenue Cycle Jason Adams and other MultiCare employees endorsing the Washington State notary license application of Hunter Donaldson employee Rebecca Rohlke.  These endorsements were a legal requirement for obtaining a notary license, and the MultiCare employees provided them despite knowing that Rohlke provided false information on her application.  Particularly, Rohlke, a California resident, claimed she lived at a Gig Harbor address that actually belonged to Adams.  Rohlke and Hunter Donaldson then used her fraudulently obtained notary license to file over five thousand medical service liens on MultiCare’s behalf, seeking to collect millions of dollars from the victims of sudden and traumatic injuries with these tainted and invalid liens.

Yesterday, Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala’s fight to bring this scheme against Washington consumers to light has produced new revelations.  In its formal response to discovery requests by Pfau Cochran, MultiCare admitted to falsifying information in order to get Rohlke a Washington State notary license:

REQUEST FOR ADMISSION 31: Admit that MultiCare employee, Jason L. Adams, endorsed defendant Rebecca Rohlke’s application for a Washington State Notary license.
RESPONSE: Admit that Mr. Adams endorsed Ms. Rohlke’s application for a Notary Public Appointment.
REQUEST FOR ADMISSION 32: Admit that MultiCare employee, Jason L. Adams, endorsed defendant Rebecca Rohlke’s application for a Washington State Notary license, knowing that she was not a resident of Washington State.
RESPONSE: Admit that Mr. Adams endorsed Ms. Rohlke’s application for a Notary Public Appointment knowing that she was not a Washington resident.
REQUEST FOR ADMISSION 33: Admit that MultiCare employee, Jason L. Adams; endorsed defendant Rebecca Rohlke’s application for a Washington State Notary license, knowing she was not a resident of his home at 3011 Wollochet Drive Northwest in Gig Harbor, Washington.
RESPONSE: Admit that Mr. Adams endorsed Ms. Rohlke’s application for a Notary Public Appointment knowing that she was not a resident’ at his home at 3011 Wollochet Drive Northwest in Gig Harbor, Washington.
REQUEST FOR ADMISSION 34: Admit that Koleen Kelley was MultiCare employee in January 2010.
RESPONSE: Admit
REQUEST FOR ADMISSION 35: Admit that Susan George was a MultiCare employee in January 2010.
RESPONSE: Admit
REQUEST FOR ADMISSION 36: Admit that MultiCare employee, Koleen Kelley, endorsed defendant Rebecca Rohlke’s application for a Washington State Notary license, knowing that she was not a resident of Washington State.
RESPONSE: Admit that Ms. Kelly endorsed Ms. Rohlke’s application for a Notary Public Appointment knowing that she was not a Washington resident.
REQUEST FOR ADMISSION 37: Admit that MultiCare employee, Susan George, endorsed defendant Rebecca Rohlke’s application for a Washington State Notary license, knowing that she was not a resident of Washington State.
RESPONSE: Admit that Ms. George endorsed Ms. Rohlke’s application for a Notary Public Appointment knowing that she was not a Washington resident.

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KOMO News Piece about Multicare Lawsuit

Darrell Cochran was interviewed by KOMO 4 News in late May about the class action lawsuit he filed on behalf of the thousands of your clients who have had fraudulent, unfair liens placed against them by Multicare and Hunter Donaldson.  Read and watch the story to get a good sense of the case and hear Darrell speak about it.

Darrell Cochran is experienced in taking large cases to trial and has a track record of winning multi-million dollar jury verdicts and settlements.  If you have a case you’d like to speak with him about, call 253-777-0799.

http://www.komonews.com/news/local/Suit-MultiCare-tricking-crash-victims-out-of-millions-of-dollars-209761181.html

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